From Australia to the western United States, much of the world is at risk of massive land degradation and drying, with serious consequences for food production and the environment. For years, scientists believed the cause of “desertification” was over-grazing–too many cattle, sheep, goats, horses, and camels trampling pastures. But Allan Savory, a veteran of land management, gradually came to a different conclusion. Desertification was actually a more complex process, he believed, and the typical responses–leaving land to rest and burning it to produce to new growth–could actually be cures worse than the disease.
Savory, who spoke about his idea at a TED conference last February, now believes that animals are part of the solution. To combat desertification, he says we should send out more animals, carefully mimicking the effect of ancient herds that kept grasslands in balance. His approach is called holistic management, an idea that Savory originally started developing more than 40 years ago, well before climate change was on everyone’s agendas.
Savory’s talk was a big TED hit. Food writer Michael Pollan and TED curator Chris Anderson, among others, described it as the highlight of the show. His video has since been viewed more than 1.7 million times (we covered it a little here), mostly drawing enthusiastic notices (though Savory also has critics).
TED is now publishing an e-book by Savory called The Grazing Revolution: A Radical Plan to Save the Earth, in which he goes into greater detail about his early career in Africa and how he developed his ideas in the face of conventional wisdom. TED has also released these graphics (in the slide show above) which quickly explain Savory’s diagnosis and prescription. If you haven’t got time for the talk or the book, they give a pretty good summary.